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Managing conflict in the workplace

LEADERSHIP and conflict go hand in hand. As a manager or supervisor, it is guaranteed that you will have to deal with workplace disputes at one point or another. Though natural to the work environment, conflict among employees can deal a blow to productivity, as well as your reputation as the leader, if it is not handled correctly.

Robert Mandeya

At some point leadership should be able to trust employees to work out the minor issues among themselves in a professional and respectful manner. However, the larger, more complex problems will most-assuredly fall in the leaders’ hands, and you need to be prepared to face them.

As a leader, there are three levels of conflict resolution that you are responsible for maintaining: Pre-conflict, present conflict, and post-conflict. Within each of these levels there exists practices and standards that, when executed properly, will ensure any problems between employees are dealt with quickly and effectively.

Conflict prevention

Though leaders will not always be able to prevent every dispute that arises in the workplace; there are certain standards they can put into place that will kill the problem before it has a chance to snowball into a major issue.

The first, most important thing leaders can do is set clear, concise expectations and enforce them with consistency. This includes guidelines on behaviour, etiquette, responsibility and the chain of command so that each employee knows their job, their place, and the proper channels to go through for any questions, problems, or needs.

These expectations should be stated clearly in the employee handbook or some other official, accessible document. Leaders should also be sure to present their expectations through training, seminars, or company-wide meetings. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and it will allow the employee ample time to raise any questions they may have about their role and expectations. It also allows you, the leader, a set of guidelines on which you can judge an employee’s actions with an unbiased perspective.

Secondly, leadership must establish a reporting system. This is a specific route that employees can take to report any problems they may have with either their job or another co-worker in a dignified, procedural and confidential manner. This allows employees the opportunity to address an issue before it blows out of proportion.

Dealing with a conflict situation

Even with preventative measures in place, some problems are going to fall through the cracks. When they do, it will be the leader’s job to resolve it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

To do this, leaders need to follow three steps as follows: acknowledging the problem immediately, addressing the problem privately with the parties involved and acting appropriately.
Under no circumstances should leaders allow an issue to drag on. If it has not been resolved by the time it reaches management ears, chances are it requires your (management) intervention. When management becomes aware of a workplace dispute, it must address it immediately. If management ignores a problem, it will continue to grow and become more difficult to resolve.

Once management acknowledges the issue, it must privately engage the employees involved in the dispute, as well as anyone attached to it. In this situation, communication is crucial. It is important to ask plenty of questions and allow the employee to give their side of the story. Leadership should not only inquire about the issue at hand, but must also find out whether or not the employee has taken the proper actions to meet all of their expectations.

Lastly, after Leadership has addressed the issue with its employees, it should act quickly, albeit professionally and proportionally. First, it should insist that everyone involved with the problem cease conflict immediately. If necessary, leadership should take the proper steps to reprimand the employees, who were out of line to begin with. Leadership may at this point to reiterate company policy and remind everyone of the expectations they are required to uphold. Whatever it does, it is important to remain consistent and impartial.

Building morale and positivity

Even after a conflict has been resolved, there are likely to be some residual effects that management will need to deal with. Friction between the employees involved in the dispute can remain and possibly put a strain or tension on future productivity. To minimise any damage this may cause, management must radiate positivity throughout the workplace.

While responsible authorities may have to criticise and reprimand some of the parties involved in the dispute, it is equally important that they build them up and find a way to compliment the areas where they excel.

As responsible authorities you will also want to directly encourage teamwork, camaraderie, and community with your employees. When management exudes a positive outlook, employees will see that, and it will help them to “bury the hatchet” and move forward in a positive, productive manner.

Mandeya is a certified executive leadership coach, corporate education trainer and management consultant and founder of Leadership Institute of Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw/ or info@lird.co.zw, Facebook: @lirdzim and Mobile/WhatsApp: +263 719 466 925.

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